I occasionally receive email asking me how I manage to get so many players for my old school games — giving that most potential players aren’t familiar with them — or if they are familiar with them do not have a very positive opinion of old school play. Given that the basement gaming area of my new house in Ohio is finally available and I’m currently recruiting players in yet another area where I don’t know many people, this sounds like a good time to make a post on how I recruit players for my long-running old school campaigns.
First, let me say that I really don’t have any good ideas for taking a currently existing group of players and convincing them to play in an old school campaign. In my 35+ years of gaming, I’ve never really done that. I never had a group of friends who are already playing tabletop RPGS and tried to convince them that they want to spend years playing in one of my campaigns. Instead of trying to convince a pre-existing group who are not playing old school games to play in my campaign, I simply recruit a group of people who want to play what I want to run. This is really my secret to success — I find people who want to play what I want to run instead of trying to convince an existing group to play what I want to run.
Since I run an old school style game where players just tell me what they want their characters to try to do and I tell them whether they succeed, fail, or what to roll to find out what happens, I don’t need to limit my search to people who already know the game system I am running. This also means I don’t have to limit my search to people willing to buy and study the rules to play. Therefore, I can recruit people that many modern gamers would not have any interest in recruiting: people who might want to play but who aren’t interested in studying and learning hundreds of pages of rules just to be able to play a character in an “elf game”.
That said, I spend most of my time telling other gamers about my campaign. I tell them that it is old school where they are playing normal people who may become heroes, not people who are already awesome heroes. I explain that my campaigns aren’t centered around combat encounters (or even encounters in general), but around exploring the campaign world, searching for and recovering treasure, and interacting with the world in character. I explain that player skill matters more than character skill — and that running headlong into situations without any playing and preparation will eventually get their characters killed. I tell people I I do not have a story to tell, but that I run a sandbox campaign where the players can choose to have their characters try to do just about anything and the the campaign’s story consists of what the players’ characters do in the campaign world.
I’ll be honest, most people’s eyes get big and they quickly decide that they want nothing to do with my campaign. That’s okay, because I want people who want to play in my campaign. However, generally about one in every ten or fifteen people seem actually interested in maybe giving such a game a try, I tell these people when the game is (or will be ran). If they are still interested I tell them how to join the campaign mailing list (or you could use a private Facebook group, etc.) where they can see the rules, learn about the campaign, and talk to other players (or potential players). Once I get a couple of people who are definitely interested, finding more becomes easier and these new players often have friends who they think might like the game and tell then about it. Often these people who friends who do not play RPGs for some reason or another, but they think would like to play in a game where they don’t have to do anything but show up and say what they want their character to try to do. I generally want at least four players to start a new campaign. It generally takes me a month or two, at most, to get to that point from no players. I keep working a it even then, however, as I usually loose a player or two once the game starts due to time issues, the game not being quite what they expected, etc. Once I have a group playing, however, recruiting actually becomes easier and the current players and current game situation are generally better at generating interest then boring old me.
Will this work for others? I will admit that it seems to work for me better than it seems to for others. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it is because this is the way I’ve always done it and so have gotten good at it.